Sustainable Transport Saves New Yorkers $19 Billion Per Year

New York City residents save at least $19 billion each year by driving less than other Americans, according to a new report from the non-profit CEOs for Cities. "New York City's Green Dividend" [PDF] makes the case that investing in transit, walking, and cycling isn't just better for the environment, it's great for our wallets and essential for the local economy. 

CEOs_for_Cities.pngGraphic: CEOs for Cities.

As Pete Donohue reported in the Daily News, the report also shows how New York City simply doesn't have the space for car-dependency. To match the car-ownership rates of the average American urban area -- not even the worst of the worst -- New York would require room for 4.5 million more cars. If each car was given only one very small parking space -- and cars demand more than one parking space each -- we would have to construct 25 square miles of new parking. That's the size of Manhattan. 

CEOs for Cities is broadcasting the benefits of sustainable transportation to public and private sector executives in order to bring the message to a new audience. "Janette [Sadik-Khan]'s office has made large strides in a quick amount of time, but congestion pricing didn't get through the state and there are other initiatives they're now pushing," said Julia Klaiber, the director of external affairs for CEOs for Cities. "Getting the economic development folks behind these policy arguments" would greatly strengthen the green transportation coalition, she added. That would certainly help in New York City, where the economic development corporation is a leading promoter of car-centric growth and our state representatives block transit improvements that pay for themselves. 

After CEOs for Cities produced similar reports for Portland and Chicago, Sadik-Khan requested one for New York, said Carol Coletta, the organization's president. Both Sadik-Khan and Mayor Bloomberg "intend to use it," she added.

At CEOs for Cities' national conference yesterday, the NYCDOT commissioner told the crowd that the $19 billion in annual savings are a reminder of why we need to keep up our investment in non-automotive modes of transportation. 

The $19 billion number is a quick, conservative estimate that almost surely understates the savings New Yorkers reap by not driving. The study estimates that, per capita, New Yorkers drive nine miles per day. It then multiplies that figure by the national average cost of operating a vehicle, 40 cents per mile. Compare that total -- how much New Yorkers spend on driving, per capita -- to the national average, and you get $19 billion in savings.

Here's why that's a conservative estimate. The study calculated average VMT rates in New York City by distributing the average daily distance driven in the entire metropolitan region according to the city's vehicle ownership rates. If New York City car owners drive less often than their Suffolk County counterparts, or drive shorter distances when they do -- both reasonable assumptions -- then nine miles per day overshoots the mark. Moreover, the cost of driving is almost certainly higher in New York than it is nationally, due to elevated costs for parking, insurance, and gasoline. In other words, it's likely that New Yorkers save much more than $19 billion.

Whatever the number may be, New York's transportation choices make living here more affordable and provide a boon to the local economy. As the report notes, spending on cars and gas ends up in Detroit or Dallas; the money saved gets reinvested in Dumbo or Ditmas Park. In Coletta's words, "continued investment in alternative transportation makes great economic sense for the city of New York."